Kochi represents different things to different people. To many, it is an emerging cosmopolitan city with bustling life in the streets, the cinema halls, the shopping malls, and the skyscrapers; the commercial capital of the state, with a style statement different from the rest of the State - whether in clothes or lifestyle. To some others, Kochi is a place with deep roots in history and its streets exude an old-world charm; a place with beautiful monuments and a variety of linguistic and ethnic communities including Jews, Konkinis, Gujaratis and so on. Yet another group looks at Kochi as a thriving, expanding market, providing opportunities for growth and prosperity to all who knock at her doors. In short, Kochi offers a cocktail of modernity, old-world charm and a global outlook that, at the same time, facilitates continuity and change. For centuries, Kochi had been a main port city, not only of Kerala, but also of the Indian Peninsula. Since the 14th century, Kochi, known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, has had ships from Asian and European countries visiting her port. The traders and travellered from across the globe were welcomed with open arms and minds. This greatly helped in its growth into a cosmopolitan city. Kochi’s growth owes a lot to its strategic position on the northern end of the peninsula that has proximity to the Arabian Sea on the west, and the estuaries and the Western Ghats on the east. As for its geography, it is an indiscriminate mix of hilly areas, estuaries and backwaters, small islands, coastal cities like Fort Kochi and Mattancherry and plain terrain like that of the city of Ernakulam.With its interesting monuments, geographic peculiarities, and emerging cosmopolitan nature, Kochi can keep a tourist engrossed for days.
Kochi is usually referred to the area that includes Fort Kochi, Mattanchery, the mainland Ernakulam, the suburbs on the northeast side (Edapally, Kalamassery and Kakkanad) and the suburb of Tripunithura on the southeast. It also includes a group of islands on Lake Vembanad . With the high tide of expansion, the borders of Kochi have become vague and continued growth is expected in the coming years.
It was Ma Huan, the Chinese traveler, who first mentioned Kochi in his books of early 15th century. Nicolo Conti, the Italian traveler also talks about the place in his records of 1440. From then on, the name appears in many travelogues and records of various travelers and traders from across the globe as Cocym, Cochym, Cochin, Cochi and so on. It has also been mentioned in some records as ‘Balapuri’, a Sanskrit name that means small town.Some scholars are of the opinion it was the traders from the court of the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan who named the port city, after their homeland and. Some others believe that the name is a corrupted version of the Sanskrit word ‘Go Sree’, which means ‘prosperous with cows’. According to one scholar, the name Kochi was derived from the word cocha, which indicates the Biblical term Cohen. Kochi is also believed to be derived from kaki, which means harbour in Tamil; from the Malayalam word, koch-azhi meaning ‘small sea’ and from its earlier name Kakochi that was preceded by the name Kochim, used in the Portuguese records of the 15th century, etc. Some still refer to the place as Cochin, though it is now known as Kochi.
Ernakulam, the urbane face of Kochi, is a bustling place with crowded shopping malls, restaurants and high-rises. On the cultural, political, commercial and industrial fronts, Ernakulam is on the cutting edge, as far as the State is concerned.
Fort Kochi has a quaint ambience and the colonial buildings, telling the tales of centuries-old cultural and commercial interaction with the colonial powers of the West, makes a big impression. The history of Fort Kochi is fascinating with various European powers - the Portuguese in 1500, the Dutch in 1663 and the British in the 18th century – invading, controlling, looting and at the same time enriching the place.
Mattancherry, the western part of the corporation of Cochin, was once a bustling centre of trade, particularly in spices. Invasions from across the sea was frequent and the invaders left indelible marks on the landscape, culture, art and social history of the place. Mattancherry welcomed every migrant community that came to her with warmth and provided them with ample opportunities to flourish. Thanks to the benevolence of the erstwhile kings of Cochin, many a community like that of Jews, Konkanis, Gujaratis, Jains and Marathis made the place their home. Even today, Mattancherry has people of different tongues and ethnic identities. Churches, agraharams, mosques and a synagogue co-exist in the area, along with the buildings of the colonial era, pointing to a vibrant past and a harmonious present.
Willington Island was created by the visionary harbour engineer, Sir Robert Bristow, who foresaw the possibility of creating a man-made island while deepening the Kochi harbour. In 1928, during the modernization of the harbour under Bristow’s supervision, the mud and materials dredged out was used to create an island. Today, after about 82 years, the island, standing in an area of around 775 acres amidst the backwaters, is one of the bustling trade centres of the country.The island, named after Lord Willington, the then Viceroy of India, is connected to the mainland of Ernakulam through the Venduruthy Bridge. The presence of the Mattancherry and Ernakulam wharfs on either sides was an important contributing factor in its growth as an important trading centre in Kochi. At present, the island houses the modern port, many important offices, hotels and buildings including that of the Southern Naval Command and the Cochin Port Trust.
A few decades ago, the islands in Vembanadu Lake, which were part of the erstwhile Kingdom of Kochi, were in an abandoned state with limited facilities. But things have changed at a very fast pace and these islands turned out to be one of the thickly inhabited islands with all the amenities, thanks to the urbanization and the fast pace of migration to Kochi. The islands on the Vembanadu Lake like Vypeen, Gundu, Vallarpadom and Bolgatty have been subjected to such a fast pace of growth and the value of land in these places in the real estate map has shot up manifold recently.
Kochi is one of the fastest growing second-tier metros in the country and is now home to several industrial parks. With the advent of the industrial parks and increasing urbanisation during the last 10 years , there has been a boom in the construction and real estate business. The industrial parks have state-of-the art facilities to cater effectively to the needs of various industry verticals such as IT, tourism, engineering, garment production, food processing, rubber production etc. The parks based on IT and ITES services are the ones that have seen the most success and Kochi has been named by NASSCOM as the second most attractive city in India for IT-based services.The presence of big names like BPCL- Kochi Refinery (earlier known as Kochi Refineries Ltd (KRL)), the Cochin Shipyard Limited, Fertilizer and Chemicals Travancore Ltd.(FACT), Hindustan Organic Chemicals (HOC) and Cominco Binani have contributed greatly to Kochi’s status as the industrial capital of Kerala.
Kochi including the mainland of Ernakulam has achieved a good position in the educational scenario, thanks to the numerous schools, colleges and other higher education facilities provided here. Kochi is also home for a university, Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT), apart from the colleges which are affiliated to the Mahatma Gandhi University. There are many colleges in the city both in Government as well as in private sector which have contributed much to the social scenario of Kochi – Maharaja’s College, Law College, St Teresa’s College, Govt Sanskrit College Tripunithura, St Albert’s College etc. to name a few. Apart from these, Ernakulam harbours colleges which facilitate learning of unconventional disciplines such as music and arts and RLV College is the major one among them. The traditional medicinal treatment of Kerala, Ayurveda, is taught and practiced at the Govt Ayurveda College, Tripunithura.
It was the vast Arabian Sea that brought Kochi in contact with countries across Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The Sea helped the port and the city establish itself as a focal point of trade and commerce; and the sea has opened doors to many emerging tourist activities such as cruise tourism and yachting. The setting up of the International Marina is part of Kochi’s endeavours to explore the potential of these emerging trends in tourism.